The problem is twofold, timidity and courage. Georgia O’Keeffe said her talented sister had been expected to be the successful artist in her family but, she lacked courage. J.M.W. Turner said ” Of all the faults of an artist the most fatal is timidity”. Nothing angered and offended Turner more than looking at the timid work of timid artists. How did he jettison timidity? How can we?
Turner’s approach was through relentless experimentation. O’Keeffe used relentless experimentation as her strategy as well. Stacks of paper were consumed by both artists as they tested ideas, watched the accidents and experiments unfolding in their paint. Turner’s bequest of almost 20,000 works on paper to what today is the Tate Museum demonstrates the scope of his persevering experiments. Below is a small 9×11 watercolor and gouache on brown paper of a procession in Venice ( example 1). We feel the warm red lights of the city, the rectangular patterns suggesting buildings, the daubs of white suggesting the procession reflecting light. I will borrow these ideas in my following examples.
Many artists from Manet to Inness to Picasso used a strategy of purging old work by over-painting it. This process let them believe that no painting was safe from destruction. Every work could surrender itself to the process of discovery and experimentation. This liberated them from timidity. I use the same process of over-painting in my examples here. I also experiment with photography and Photoshop as methods of discovery, as pathways to paintings. They present a germ of an idea which I can twist, mutate and explore. Courage means letting go of expectation, of wanting a work to be good, of holding on to an expectation, letting go of a piece of source material whether a plein air scene or a photo. Strip ambition from the painting process, from your experiments to discover what is really happening before you.
My examples here share Boston’s landscape as a common theme especially, the interior of the South Boston Station. I begin with a manipulated photo and an older painting. Example 1 presents a photo distortion of the interior of South Boston’s station. Example 2 presents the substrate that I will be painting on. Example 3 shows the first step of the painting. Example 4 shows the last step.
The next painting proceeds from a different point of view. I am more used to the process above because of its similarities with painting the interior of Grand Central Station. So, I decided to try a less conventional subject by extracting just a part of a photograph (example 6). I use the blurry far right section of the photo. It reminded me of a bar scene but, abstracted and obscured. Example 7 shows the substrate, the older painting which I paint over. Example 8 shows the next step where I have begun to block in the image. I am just loosely smearing large areas of paint and almost immediately I see the possibilities of my image. I like this first step but, do not have the courage to stop here. I am demonstrating timidity. I continue on with example 9 as the last step.
Another method of jettisoning timidity involves destruction and rebirth. In this example I take an older painting and decide to re-invent it (example 10). I cover the bottom with ultramarine blue and bathe the top in more light. I am indifferent to saving any aspect of the painting as I apply this new layer of paint. I discover a wider stream, new stages of depth and new atmospheres through this process of obliteration and invention (example 11)
In the next example I again begin with a manipulated photo (example 12). This photo has been multi-layered with another blurred version of itself. The design reminds me of aspects of the Turner watercolor in example 1. Example 13 shows the first step. Example 14 shows the last step.